Described as a mixture of Sergio Leone, Luis Buñuel, and Sam Peckinpah, El Topo is a surreal western from the bizarre and philosophical mind of Alejandro Jodorowsky. It’s violent, passionate, religious, and sexual, packed to the brim with images created to enlighten and disturb. This isn’t just a movie, it’s an other worldly experience.
El Topo (played by Jodorowsky himself) is a violent wanderer traversing the wilderness with his seven year old son (Brontis Jodorowsky). He soon begins a mystical journey to find and defeat the four gun masters in order to prove himself as the best. His journey leads him across barren deserts, a cave filled with deformed people crying out for help, and to a town inhabited by cultists who find murder on a large scale to be enjoyable.
Trying to summarize El Topo without giving much of it away is very difficult because the story is told mainly using powerful imagery. When it was first released in 1970, it was received very well by the underground film goers and, of all people, John Lennon who demanded that it be marketed better. Marketing this film proved to be a challenge because of the controversial topics and scenes that are meant to startle and confuse. Ultimately, it was lost for a number of years until its DVD release in 2007.
Unfortunately, this movie seems to drag on at points, and I feel that it might’ve worked a little bit better if it was shortened. It isn’t necessarily long, clocking in at just over two hours, but for an avat-garde quasi-western surrealist work of philosophical brutality it sometimes got difficult to sit through. Although I never recommend stopping a movie, and coming back to it later, I would understand why some people would want to do that for El Topo.
Even though the movie seems too slow at some points, it truly is a wonder to look at. The color of the sky blends very well with the barren look of the desert, and the added imagery makes it horrifying, beautiful, and moving. The editing also helps to create the mood of surrealism with sometimes choppy cuts to contrasting images, making a very unorthodox montage that would give Sergei Eisentstein a heart attack.
I would be lying if I were to say that I completely understood this film. I’d be lying if I said I understood most of this film. There’s a lot to absorb in El Topo, and practically all of it is not obvious symbolism. I read a review that said it was more of a Zen-like experience than a piece meant to be analyzed. It was all about the trip that the viewer takes, and the images and moods they are exposed to. I partially agree with this, but with the symbolism that I understand, I firmly believe Jodorowsky wants this film to be viewed multiple times, analyzed, and eventually understood.
Out of all the movies I have reviewed thus far, I can declare that El Topo might be the most estranging film. I can see where many people would stray away from this movie because of the attention to aesthetics and meaning rather than a strong storyline. For those who are looking for a strange take on the western with an intense look at western and eastern philosophies and religion, than El Topo is your movie. Be warned that it can get to be a little slow, and there may be times where you just want it to end. Still, this film is truly and experience that, like it or not, you will be glad you had the chance to witness.